The Lighthouse Customer: Windward

Diplomacy in action.

Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. This week, sailing the shimmering, procedurally generated seas of action RPG Windward.

Glimmering seas and snapping sails. Pirate ships and plundered booty. Factions fighting for control of ports and lighthouses. Cannonfire, ship-to-ship combat, pitched battles and daring escapes. Really, the only thing missing from Windward is a rousing sea shanty. Don’t worry, though. I wrote my own.

There are four factions to choose from in Windward, and I begin with Exchange, a merchant faction whose ships can carry more loot and whose quests mostly revolve around making money. I figure it’ll be like Taipan!, the old Apple II game I played so much of in 1982 because, well, there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of choice back then. Sail to a port, buy some stuff, sail to another port, sell it for profit, and so on.

It’s a bit like that. I ferry cargo around from town to town, I explore the map, I make a bit of gold, and I certainly enjoy the scenery along the way. The sea shimmers in the sunlight, wisps of clouds pass overhead, letting you know which way the wind is blowing, the sails of your ship flap and rustle convincingly, and occasionally the wreck of a submerged ship can be glimpsed beneath the waves. It’s lovely.

Hope that ship full of dead crewmen doesn't demoralize my crewmen.

Still, while it’s all quite pleasant and picturesque, I quickly begin itchin’ for a bit of action. There’s just not much going on during my trips, except occasionally finding a bit of floating booty, a few crates bobbing in the surf, or some barrels near a shipwreck. (One time I found a marooned captain treading water and gave him a ride, then sold him to a town.) I decide to leave the section of the map I’m on, which is completely dominated by Exchange, and head to areas where some ports are still up for grabs.

Shiver me timbers! Literally. Me timbers are shivering.

That certainly spices things up. I start running into pirate ships who attack on sight, flinging their itty-bitty cannonballs my way with tiny coughs of smoke. Combat is fun and fast-paced, if a bit simple. Your gunners will autofire when you’re lined up properly, and you have a barrage attack that needs time to recharge. The little details are wonderful. Sails become shredded during fights, tiny fires break out on your deck, and explosions are big and beautiful. Once I spotted two ships duking it out, and cannonballs from one punched through the other ships sails, landed on a tiny island, and rolled around a bit. Adorable.

The main imports of that island are cannonballs. And shortly, burning planks.

Fighting is definitely more fun than just selling cargo, so I scrap my financial goals and just go out looking for trouble. Naturally, any game with pirate ships now makes me think of Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, particularly the wonderful sea shanties the crew would sing while you sailed. The music in Windward is wonderful, but I need me a sea shanty, matey.

If you can't make it out, the name of that pirate is Brenda. I've been sunk by the Dread Pirate Brenda.

So, I composed a ditty of own. For all of you salty sea dogs who find yourself adrift on the uncertain seas of early access games, feel free to join in:

Well fetch me the game, the early access game
Made by a dev, can’t remember their name
Kickstarted, crowdfunded, green-lighted, but shame:
They took all our gold and gave us half a game!

Well fetch me the game, mate, the unfinished game
It be sold on the docks so a-sailin’ we came
We paid for a ship; they delivered a frame!
They took all our gold and gave us half a game!

Is that a sea creature or an incomplete feature?
(All) O save yer retorts for the bug reports!
Spent all of me scratch, been a month and no patch!
(All) O save yer retorts for the bug reports!
The crew be all bitchin’ bout crashin’ and glitchin’
(All) O save yer retorts for the bug reports!
Though we be havin’ fun it may ne’er be done!
(All) O save yer retorts for the bug reports!
(All) Yes, save yer retorts for the bug reports!

Nothing smart to say. Just another picture of ships shooting each other.

Anyway. Other AI-controlled ships may join in the fights, leading to big, fun, explodey sea battles. Speaking of exploding, there’s a lot of exploding. When your ships runs down to zero health, kaboom. If you’re deck-to-deck with a ship whose health has run down to zero, kaboom, for both them and you. You can even ram ships for more kabooming, which I tend to do when it’s clear I’m not going to win. Screw ’em! We’ll all die together. If you’re damaged, you can repair, but you have to stop dead in the water. I’ve fled from battles with cannonballs splashing at my stern and raking my sides, then stopped for some frantic repairs while the pirates closed in. Fun stuff.

Got right smack in the middle of the wrong battle.

The problem I keep running into is that I suck, or rather, Exchange’s ships suck when it comes to combat durability. They’re a merchant faction, and not well suited to constant combat. I start a new game, on a new randomized map, this time under the banner of Valiant, who are basically pirate punishers, storming the seas in search of a fight. I can feel the difference immediately, and I start pounding pirates into planks and scooping up whatever booty is left. I put my XP into combat, toughening up my cannons and improving my aim. Soon I’m three maps away, well out of Valiant territory, and I’ve yet to lose a fight.

Welcome to Chris Town, formerly Pirate Town. Neither of them are particularly good names for a town.

I start capturing pirate-controlled towns and lighthouses, which requires floating in their vicinity for a while and fighting off whatever pirates arrive to defend. Once you’ve captured a town, your faction can begin fast-traveling to it, giving you some quick support. Eventually, I make my way into the territory of another faction, Consulate, who are gifted in diplomacy. Though I’m not sure how diplomacy actually works, since as soon as I enter their waters, I choose to contest the area, which means the neutral faction becomes my enemy, fires on sight, and I’m allowed to start capturing their towns.

Well, it's sort of like trading.

I’m currently deep in Consulate waters, really making a pain in the ass of myself. I’m sure there’s more to Windward than just blowing up everything I come across, but it’s what I’m finding the most fun at the moment. Though I finally did lose a fight with a Consulate ship, I’m happy to say, so did my opponent.

Let's call it a tie.

I’ve only tried single-player, as it appears multiplayer is only available by connecting through IP, and I don’t know anyone else who has the game. But I’m definitely enjoying it. Windward is available on Steam for £15 /$20.

31 Comments

  1. mr.black says:

    This is why I love RPS. How could you not love something which gives you free vid-game based sea shanties! On Monday!!
    Bravo, esteemed sir, bravo!

    Also: RPS and/or it’s commenters should have its own (silly) poetry session somewhere.

    Also also: The game looks fun, definitely worth checking out/keeping an journalistic eye on!

    Triple also: Hope the devs jolly well “roger” all the feedback the testers give them about combat dificulty!

    • alenarobert says:

      I­m mak­ing ­over $­1­3k a month working ­part tim­e. I kept hea­ring other p­eople tell me­ how much m­oney they can ma­ke­ online­ so I d­ecide­d to look int­o­ it. Wel­, it was all tru­e and ha­s totally ch­anged­ my life. ­This is­ wha­t I do, ==

      ??????? W­W­W­.Y­E­LPWORK.­­CO­M­

  2. Hex says:

    This game sounds like a snooze-fest. “The same ship-combat you’ve experienced in half a dozen other pirate-themed games, only now with less player input! Also, bugs.”

    • Diziet Sma says:

      Where are you quoting that from?

      • Hex says:

        It’s a paraphrase. I generated the text with my own noggin from the information available in the article, and put quotation marks around it. I’m not attempting to cite a source. My apologies for the confusion.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Lexx87 says:

    That’s an amazing shanty!

    Top work sir!

  4. gi_ty says:

    Yet another superb article from one who is fast becoming my favorite author. This game seems quite interesting, especially considering the possible multiplayer co-op or adversary possibilities. Thanks for so many great recommends Chris I have had many hours of excellent gaming thanks to your weekly feature!

    • Hex says:

      I wouldn’t take the above as a recommendation, necessarily.

      Also, if you want something similar which is already completed and works, check out Age of Booty.

      Age of Booty is only $5 and has a free demo, too.

      :/

      • Caiman says:

        Hex, you say above that the game “sounds like a snooze fest”, which implies you haven’t played it, yet here you claim it’s full of bugs and inferior to the cheaper Age of Booty. If you haven’t played Windward, how can we take your recommendation seriously? Or is there more you can tell us about it, because I’m looking for something like this right now. Chris’ detailed piece above certainly makes it sound pretty interesting. Bugs are expected in an Early Access game, but why is Age of Booty better?

        • Hex says:

          I don’t know what more you’re asking for. The answers to your question are in the post you’re replying to:

          – Age of Booty is complete
          – Age of Booty is 25% of the cost of Windward
          – I haven’t played Windward, but I have played Age of Booty, so I know it’s playable.

          If you’re looking to play a game like this, why wouldn’t you rather play one of the several (Sid Meier’s Pirates!, Age of Booty, heck, Leviathan: Warships even) cheaper, finished, known-quantity games that already do the things this game is attempting to do?

      • defunct says:

        Age of Booty has mostly negative reviews on Steam, I guess mostly because no one is able to play it because of Securom issues. One person that got it to work says there’s no multiplayer any longer because it used GameSpy. Even the positive reviews sound bad, though. So, why, exactly, are you recommending this game over this one? You work for the devs or something?

  5. barelyhomosapien says:

    Came here out of curiosity, left with an amazing sea shanty, great article!!

  6. SuddenSight says:

    Are there any games with a more accurate sailing model? Ever since I learned how to sail a real boat, simply going a little slower upwind just doesn’t feel right to me. And actual sailing physics are kind of cool!

    Anyway, fabulous article, 10/10, would shanty again.

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      I remember a little simulator that was purely about tacking with a small boat, but a quick search couldn’t rediscover it

    • Hypocee says:

      Astonishingly few. Basically you get Age of Sail 1 and 2 for real-time action. My distant distant memories of their reception are a resounding ‘Little Crashy, Little Ugly, Not Awful’. Going back a little further into turn-based stuff I’ll always have fond memories of my hours with (the) Wooden Ships and Iron Men (demo, I was a moneyless teen). It’s a gorgeous phased-realtime TBS with a major crew-allotment element. Lots of attention to wind – get dead in irons and you’ll soon be dead, and cutting off the windward gage is a huge deal.

      There’s also the non-combat arena – Virtual Skipper is the premier sailing sim these days, and not much the worse for running in a field of one. It’s deeply concerned with simulation of waves and sails but more importantly it’s a thrilling sports and strategy videogame for the layman like me. The AI seems quite good to me in a sport that’s 1/3 physics, 1/3 meteorology and 1/3 legal argument. Games thrive on hang time between decisions and their direct results; in this game you can pull your beam inches ahead of your rival just before a buoy, forcing them to yield right-of-way or ram it, because you carried that iota of extra momentum through a beautiful tacking turn and correctly predicted how most of the pack would move and where the wind would be five or ten clawing minutes before. I’ve rarely felt such unseemly, vindictive schadenfreude toward a line of code.

      • Muzman says:

        That’s a shame. It seems a real ‘too hard basket’ feature for most of these games. Can’t think of a way to make it fun I suppose. People don’t want to harness some mercurial force. They want to go where they points their controller.

        Even Pirates had some half decent wind back in the day. I fondly remember being blown right out of the combat area some times, if I approached certain places from the wrong direction.

      • frymaster says:

        That Virtual Skipper paragraph is one of the best mini-reviews I’ve read of any game. Bravo.

        • Hypocee says:

          Aw thanks! The game really surprised me; I forget why I even gave it a spin in the first place.

    • VFRHawk says:

      Obligatory mention for Naval Action, which whilst still in closed beta seems to be aiming for a realistic (ish) simulation of sailing physics:

      link to navalaction.com

      Sorry it’s a bit late to the thread!

  7. mashkeyboardgetusername says:

    You should have named your captain Funky. Then after you captured Pirate Town it would have (presumably) become Funky Town.

    (This would obviously work even better if there were passenger missions that have speech text from said passenger describing where they want to go.)

  8. Raoul Duke says:

    This looks pleasantly like Sid Meier’s Pirates!

  9. Hypocee says:

    I played this when the developer was trying to alphafund it as an ARTS and nobody (else? I think/hope I paid in before it failed) funded. It’s hard to overstate just how much fine craft there is to make it an enjoyable thing to hang out with. The little toy ships speeding through their glistening tropical seas creak and heel over in a tight turn. All the little cannonballs are physically ballistically simulated, which sounds cosmetic but means you can juke much of a too-distant broadside if you’ve come in on the right point, and shoot over hills at watchtowers and towns. There are lovely moments of suspense and decision in the Hold Fire and Take Cover commands (the latter I’m sure preceded Black Flag)

    More important though, given that this is a PC gaming blog, is that this brings significant TERRAIN influence to the ARPG, with an emergent spectrum of how far from land you are. Out in the open sea, wallowing frigates need teamwork or a nearby destination to avoid being pecked down by sloops that can rake in and out with near impunity. In a strait, they become foreboding walls turned in blockade. And though the sailing model is rudimentary, you’ll quickly learn to stay the hell off a lee shore.

    Heck, let’s get classy – here’s a mail I sent to RPS chum the Crate and Crowbar last year about the previous version of the game. Please forgive the repetition, but what was exciting about that version is largely exciting about this one.

    —–

    If you dig the naval combat in Black Flag, and especially if you like action-bar combat management, you might want to check out Tasharen’s Windward, a multiplayer, skirmish or comp-stomp domination game in which you sail around several maps capturing buildings as a variety of tiny, arcadey tall ships.

    link to tasharen.com

    Obviously the connection’s tenuous in a lot of ways. Windward lacks Black Flag’s sumptuous audiovisual presentation as well as its multiply murderous melees (and their jank). But the overhead views of green islands and sparkling seas are a lovely little tonic and I’m writing about it because it captures the same tension of choosing between movement and fire in a given direction, the “take cover” mechanic to reward anticipation of damage, and the suspense of a perfect passing broadside or throwing the wheel over to evade a deck that’s wheeling towards you. In the open seas, sloops dive in along the bigger boys’ centrelines, sting, and coast away as their comrades take their turn. In straits, frigates haul up in the nick of time to turn entire task forces off their beams. In between, happy tactical chaos reigns. An important point is that all the cannonballs are physically simulated, which allows for jukes and terrain utilisation.

    There is a lot to put up with. Tasharen tried to alphafund Windward last year; nobody alphafunded it; accordingly it was abandoned in alpha. The bots are dumb, the progression model incomplete and so on. But this is a Unity game you control with four arrows and five or six keys, and it fundamentally works. You get in by creating an account from the button in-game; in ceasing development they set the server to automatically permit accounts, and there’s no payment infrastructure.

    • frymaster says:

      Sold, I think.

      On the one hand, I have a massive backlog of games to work through. On the other, if people don’t buy it now, there might not be a later.

      In your personal subjective opinion, as the game stands right now, is there enough depth/value in the game compared to other 15 quid offerings?

      • Hypocee says:

        Sorry, can’t tell you. I only learned Windward was coming back from this article; I’ve bought in but haven’t played yet, and my decision was partially based on the happy hours I had with it before and the chance that I didn’t get in before it went free. Sorry if I didn’t make it clear enough that I was only talking about its previous life.

        On the upside, all those little things I’m talking about were in the ARTS design, would translate perfectly to its cousin ARPG and would take active work to remove so I feel safe assuming they’re still in place. On the downside, it’s definitely choosing a niche price point and I realised overnight that though I played it almost exclusively with bots before, putting the focus on one ship might hurt the teamwork and adaptation to circumstances that the ARTS generated. Buuut, reading between the lines, it seems to be essentially generating skirmishes in distinct arenas so maybe it works the same? Only time, if I can find the time, will tell.

      • Hypocee says:

        Sorry again, this time for necro. I spent a weekend and then some with it, but haven’t had time to write. Short answer, yeah, it’s pretty much exactly what I expected, which is quite close to what I hoped for, but I’m weird. Long answer,

        Wot I Think: Windward 2014 October

        ArenMook, the more or less solo developer of Windward, has been at pains to point out, including personally to me, that Windward 2014 is an entirely different game from Windward 2012. This distancing tactic is certainly understandable in light of 2012’s failure to launch, but fortunately for me it’s also a bucket of horse pucks. The moment-to-moment experience is the same, and the game as a whole is 2012 set , sort of optionally, into a larger context. And it’s a weird one.

        I won’t repeat the stuff I’ve already said about its special traits, but it should be stated clearly that 2012 was an action RPG team strategy wherein two teams clashed in a domination match – capturing towns by sitting next to them – in one of a selection of authored maps, respawning in different ship classes and leveling up to unlock relatively minor cooldown abilities. 2014 adds one major and one minor layer to this formula. The major layer is that the arenas are now randomly generated, and set in a gridded overworld which is itself generated from the same seed. The map of the randomly-rolled world I’ve been playing has 37 arenas arranged in a six-pointed asterisk sort of thing, with four factions set in arms pushing out into the default Pirate-controlled territory. The minor layer is a trading and a loot system, which give more persistence and an alternative to combat.

        It’s not wrong to call the result an ARPG, but to me it seems much more useful to describe it as that perpetual hypothetical the single-player MMO – something you can drop into, have a fight or make some progress, and come back to later for more of the same. You don’t gain any new abilities that fundamentally change your movement, say, as you do in most modern ARPGs. There are occasional really tough boss-style ships but nothing like The Butcher or King Crab. The factions also aren’t nearly as sharply delineated as classes – they just tweak the frequency and bonus XP for certain quests that towns offer.

        Those town quests are something I really like, though I oddly couldn’t say whether they’re actually good. They’re extremely simple: Each town has a set of surplus and scarce goods, and shipping in a scarce good counts as completing a quest. Additionally they offer a selection from a set of quests like hunting a spawned pirate ship, defending against a spawned wave of pirates, building a defence tower, going to a specific place or what have you. For those who are more RPG-attuned than I am, the reward for this activity is that you level up the towns. Higher-level towns vend better loot and, in a lovely twist which I can’t remember where I’ve seen it before, can buy – liquidate – better loot drops that you don’t want. That’s all well and good but it’s also just plain animally satisfying. I couldn’t really care less about the gold, but I’m doing well by doing good! I’ll just run these colonists over here, pick up meat and jewelry at their destination, deliver it to these two destinations that are nearby, then go kick over into the next territory and fight for a half hour.

        You don’t tend to mix fighting and trading-questing. My rhythm is to go into an area and fight until it’s utterly conquered, then peace around for a bit and repeat. This is probably because the pirates don’t, as yet…pirate. It could be really cool if they intruded into areas to stomp you and your friendly AI ships and steal your stuff, but right now they act like a military faction and focus entirely, when they intrude at all, on trying to take towns. It’s a symptom of the rudimentary AI in general. No single ship is a threat; you can hang out ahead of the beam and lead any ship in a circle until it dies. They rely on numbers for power, which is really fine by me at this point. I wind up having to retreat on a regular basis, which is a sign that something’s going right!

        I don’t have a segue, but the final point is that it’s actually, technically, inherently a persistent multiplayer game. It defaults to singleplayer, but behind the scenes that’s just running the server on 127.0.0.1, connecting the client to it and filling it with bots. Younger readers may not have understood that sentence. Once upon a time, servers were executable files that came with a game. You would run the server on a spare machine and then your friends and no random Internet assholes could connect and play with you. You could wipe and restart the server whenever you wanted, run it on a LAN in a house or dorm without relying on a colo building on another continent, and your favourite mode or entire game would not and could not be turned off when it was no longer profitable. This is that kind of server, and it’s built around a low-key playstyle where people can drop in and make progress independently, and sometimes get on at the same time and work together.

        So that’s how it works right now. It’s very simple, pretty, fairly dumb, relaxing, satisfying activity with a couple light strategy layers as and when you want them. And, sadly and finally, there’s not much pont in talking about future plans because that’s how it’s likely to stay. There are reports of simultaneous Steam player numbers in the 50s. The developer’s doing so much right: It’s in a pleasant state from the start, and he’s been doing literally daily builds with well-prioritised patches and tweaks. You can criticise the price, but it’s a niche product and he’s headbutting this wall in the interstices of a day job developing a successful Unity GUI tool. I suspect he’s priced it at a level where it could concievably pay well enough to take time off from developing a real thing that professionals pay for. Fundamentally, though, I think the market has spoken – and stated repeatedly that nobody other than me wants an arcadey backed-sails-n-broadsides tall ship game. I can’t imagine this iteration is going to justify a lengthy development either. But at least I got what there is of it, and that’s pretty good.

  10. InfamousPotato says:

    Mr. Livingston, your sea-shanty skills are top notch. Wonderful article. Lovely sounding game. Thank you.

  11. eggy toast says:

    Just like Tolkien: when you see a song coming skip to the next bit of narative

  12. Themadcow says:

    If this is a Consulate ship… WHERE IS THE AMBASSADOR?

  13. Telkir says:

    Sea shanties? Can you turn them on or off? ;)

    Check around 1:34…